FCBD: Strange Adventures Comics and Curiosities

I am a nerd. Loudly and proudly. I am also a huge procrastinator and scatterbrain. Put these two things together, and this is what you get…

The Procrastinerdor Presents:

Strange Adventures Comics and Curiosities, AKA the Canadian Maritimes’ Comic Mecca

Every year I travel from Vancouver to Halifax to visit my parents. And every year I go, I stop in at Strange Adventures. This year, as I was preparing for the annual trip, WWAC editor Adrienne Gairdner and I discussed the possibility of me setting up an interview with the owner, Calum Johnston, to discuss how Free Comic Book Day affects his business, among other comics related questions.

I was also extremely eager to check out the shop’s new location, as they were in mid-move last year when I went. But, as usual, I didn’t get anything prepared beforehand, and the one day I had to spend in downtown Halifax was the one day Mr Johnston wasn’t going to be in the shop! He did graciously agree to an e-interview, however, and I was thrilled to have the chance to ask him a few questions…

Diamond Comics awarded Strange Adventures with the “Best Free Comic Book Day” award
Diamond Comics awarded Strange Adventures with the “Best Free Comic Book Day” award last year.
SF: Calum, thanks so much for agreeing to an interview! Firstly, I’d like to congratulate you on last year’s Free Comic Book Day! You were awarded Diamond Comics’ Best Free Comic Book Day Event distinction, and after seeing the photos from the day, I can certainly see why. There were line-ups out the door and around the corner! Where exactly was it held?

CJ: For the past several years, we’ve rented a church hall just around the corner as the event outgrew the store. It allowed us to keep the store operating and get thousands of comics into the hands of happy folks.

Free Comic Book Day 2013, photo from www.strangeadventures.com
Free Comic Book Day 2013, photo from www.strangeadventures.com
SF: Do you know approximately how many people came through that day? Do you know of anyone who traveled a long way to participate?

CJ: We’re not sure, we try to do estimates but the day is so busy, we get sidetracked. Usually more than a thousand people come through the doors but it may be higher

SF: The Strange Adventures website mentions that for 2014’s Free Comic Book Day you’ll offer genres for everyone, young and old. There’s certainly a huge cross-section of ages that attended last year. What do you think it is about comic books that brings so many different walks of life together?

CJ: Free comics is a great attractor and we do our best to get the message across that there’s really something for everyone. Kids, teens, adults and all in between. Crime stories, action adventure, comedy, romance, just about every kind of story can be found in comics.

Free Comic Book Day 2013, photo from www.strangeadventures.com
Genres for all ages at Free Comic Book Day 2013! Photo from www.strangeadventures.com
SF: How many fans do you think will attend this year’s Free Comic Book day, and where can they find you?

CJ: We’ve made arrangements with the kind folks at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic to take over part of the museum and set up tables there to take care of the flow of people better. We’re hoping people will bring a donation of a food item for the Nova Scotia food bank as well, as that’s one of the charities the museum helps support.

As for how many, I hope a lot. Everyone should come by to get some comics!

SF: You’ve been operating Strange Adventures since 1992: did the inception of Free Comic Book Day, ten years later, change the business for you and your shop? Did you see a change in your customer base?

CJ: We’ve always given away comics as the best way to get people to try them out. Nothing gives you an idea as to whether or not you’ll enjoy a series better than an issue or chapter from it. Having Free Comic Book Day become such a world-wide and well known industry event helps do the one thing we really need in comics, try to get more readers into comics!

SF: The Halifax Regional Municipality – or just HALIFAX, if you’re bold (that’s an inside joke) – is only the 13th largest municipal area in Canada (thank you Wikipedia), yet Halifax is seemingly overflowing with comics-related events! Recently the Chronicle Herald had their “Comic Strips Hero” contest for local artists to have a shot at being published in the Saturday funnies, and every year there’s the Dartmouth Comic Arts Festival at Alderney Landing, not to mention the big guy: Hal-con! Do you think there’s something specific about Nova Scotians that make them crazy for comics?

CJ: No, I think it’s very widespread but we’ve gotten a bit more notice in Halifax for the thriving comics community, but there’s equally vibrant comic scenes happening all across Canada. Put some crayons and paper on a table just about anywhere and I think you’ll have people start making some drawings and telling stories.

SF: Stepping away from the topic of Free Comic Book Day now: the Strange Adventures website has links to webcomics from local artists and authors. It’s obvious that you’re extremely supportive of local talent, and considering this interview is for Women Write About Comics, I have to comment that there are two series written and drawn by women referenced on the site! There’s “Hark! A Vagrant!” by Kate Beaton and “Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong” by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks. Additionally, Kate Leth – creator of “Kate Or Die!” and writer for the hugely popular “Adventure Time” and “Bravest Warriors” titles from BOOM! Studios – got her start in the industry through yourself and Strange Adventures. Do you feel that the industry as a whole is becoming more accessible to girls and women, both as consumers and contributors?

CJ:The industry as a whole? Yes and no. I think there’s great opportunities for everyone, however they identify themselves. There’s always going to be struggles and difficulties but every time someone succeeds in comics, I hope it signals other cartoonists that they can make it, too. Good comics are good comics, whether made by boys, girls, men or women; and my job as a comic retailer is to do my best to spread the comic book joy to as many people as possible.

SF: You host a regular Ladies’ Night at Strange Adventures! Can you tell me a little bit about that, how it came about and what kind of responses you’re getting from female customers?

CJ: I came up with the Ladies Night idea along with Tiina Johns, a former staffer who now works in the public library system; but I don’t get to host. It’s ladies only! Kate Leth has been instrumental in taking the helm on the events and sharing the idea with other stores. (As well as the rest of the staff and so many great customers and friends who help make it such a fun event!)

It sprang as an idea that we could take the Ladies Night term that gets used by bars and nightclubs where they offer women a deal on drinks or free cover charge in order to get them into their establishment and thereby draw more men to the place. We tweaked it where we just wanted to offer an opportunity for girls of all ages to try out comics and check out the store in a very open and welcoming environment, and for women who were already into comics a chance to geek out without any boys getting in the way! We’ve always strived to be a friendly retail store to everyone, whatever gender, denomination, alien subculture; so it wasn’t something we needed to do, it was something we thought would be fun and might

even spread to other comic stores – which it has! There’s been Ladies Night events in shops all over the US and Canada over the past couple of years and I do a presentation on Ladies Night events at the ComicsPRO retailers meeting held each spring in the US.

We’ve had very positive response from the people who attend the events. One lady in her fifties mentioned on our very first Ladies Night that she had been a fan of comics when she was younger and wanted to try some again and the event gave her the nudge to do so. I think the photos speak for themselves as to the

response overall. One of the best parts is to watch the folks who are already into comics, showing their favourites to the other women in attendance. It’s all about sharing the comic book love.

Free Comic Book Day 2013, photo from www.strangeadventures.com, pointing
I may have gushed and rambled at the lovely Kate Leth the entire time I was in the shop. And by “may have” I mean I totally did.
SF: And I have to ask this one: who is/are your favourite hero/heroes (and heroines!) or series, and why?

CJ: My favourite comic book characters are the Spirit, Little Lulu, Uncle Scrooge, Nexus, the Flaming Carrot, and Reid Fleming, the world’s toughest milkman. They’re entertaining, exciting and make me laugh and smile! 

A huge thank you to Calum for taking time to answer my questions, and an even bigger thank you to him and his staff for helping comic books and comic culture thrive in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick! For more information on Strange Adventures, please visit their website, www.strangeadventures.com.

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Shona Fraser

Shona Fraser

Shona Fraser is a voice actor, cat mommy, shameless science fiction addict, and avid lover of all things Marvel comics.